Bred for bully food

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM - TARA BRADY

THE DIR­TIES

Di­rected by Matthew John­son. Star­ring Matt John­son, Owen Wil­liams, Krista Madi­son 16 cert, Light House, Dublin, 83 min Matt (Matthew John­son) and Owen (Owen Wil­liams) are BFF fan­boy film-mak­ers hop­ing to make some clazz of sub-Tarantino crime flick fea­tur­ing the bul­lies – or the “dir­ties” as they call them – at their high school. The Dir­ties, we soon re­alise, are as per­sis­tent and ca­su­ally vi­o­lent as Matt and Owen are geeky.

Ev­ery in­ci­dent at school only

The Dir­ties

serves to ce­ment the friends’ lowly sta­tus in the peck­ing or­der: even their “genre-bend­ing” video home­work is in­tro­duced by their teacher as “gen­der-bend­ing”.

The out­sider teens take refuge in a scruffy re­venge fan­tasy that in­cor­po­rates footage of the real-life school­yard bru­tal­ity they must en­dure. “When some­thing hap­pens to you on cam­era,” the hy­per­ac­tive, mo­tor-mouthed Matt tells Owen, “it’s like it’s not re­ally hap­pen­ing.”

That no­tion be­comes in­creas­ingly sin­is­ter af­ter Owen re­ceives some at­ten­tion from a long­time crush. An in­creas­ingly alien­ated Matt re­treats fur­ther into char­ac­ter, wear­ing a Catcher in the Rye T-shirt, check­ing out blue­prints of the school, read­ing Dave Cullen’s Columbine and vis­it­ing a gun range. Might his tor­men­tors and sex­ual jeal­ousy be push­ing him over the edge?

The di­rec­tor Kevin Smith was so im­pressed by this in­gen­u­ous Slam­dance win­ner that he re­leased it through his own Movie Club la­bel. The Dir­ties’ ex­tra­or­di­nary trans­for­ma­tion from a lark­ish, pop-cul­tured im­pro­vised com­edy into the foundfootage movie Werner Her­zog might make is sly and per­versely en­ter­tain­ing.

Di­rec­tor, co-writer and star Matthew John­son de­vi­ously plays with the lim­i­ta­tions of his lo-fi genre. Is there a third cam­era­man? Some­times or al­ways? There are meta-shots and meta-mo­ments and dark meta-jokes. But some­where be­tween the crude Pulp Fic­tion reshoots and Matt’s in­creas­ingly height­ened mad­ness lies a film that is at least as pro­found as Michael Moore’s Bowl­ing for Columbine or Michael Haneke’s Funny Games.

It is also, un­for­tu­nately, a star­tlingly timely pic­ture. Mr John­son’s sopho­more ef­fort can­not come soon enough.

Matt John­son in

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